Updated: Oct 7, 2020
By: Nature-Tech Wildlife Solutions LLC
Many Americans across the nation have been drawn into the idea of keeping their own chickens, ducks, turkeys, and other feathered livestock for either pets, meat, eggs or a combination of the three. While some are experienced in the “country life” making husbandry and security factors fairly 2nd nature, many others do not necessarily have those skills and thus they have to be learned. Outside of proper poultry husbandry which will always be evolving and in a state of learning, keeping their animals safe from predators tends to be a common theme of discussion in public forums. While Nature-Tech Wildlife Solutions focuses our efforts on poultry predators in Polk County, Pasco County and Hillsborough County, Osceola County and Orange County, Florida, the reality is, our advice can be followed to fit essentially anywhere in the United States. Just bear in mind that wildlife and predator options can vary state to state and climate to climate, therefore modifications may be required. Yet, the principles will always remain the same.
It must first be understood that the keeping of *any* livestock comes with a risk, whether you are keeping cows, chickens, pigs or waterfowl. There are *always* going to be threats from below and above. Animals can be lost to disease. They can be lost to injury from fights with each other. They also most certainly can be lost to predation. While it is outside of the scope of this article to discuss general husbandry or disease, predation is most certainly in our wheelhouse.
Let us begin by going over a couple of the basics when dealing with predators of chickens, turkeys, and ducks in Central Florida. The environment here is ever changing. Constant construction and large areas of land being cleared for home development sends wildlife running either into already densely populated wilderness areas, or into urban environments where they will contend with humans. Therefore, there will always be predator species moving throughout human domains and that really cannot be controlled.
“What about deterrents? Will those keep predators away from my chickens, turkeys and ducks?”
Absolutely not. For starters, most “deterrents” will come in the form of a powder, spray, or an electronic device that emits a subsonic pulse/beep that is intended to annoy the predator animal and subsequently make them run away and not take a second look at your turkeys, ducks or chickens. The fact of the matter is, these simply do not work and are a complete waste of money. Why, you ask? Because your method of keeping the predators away from your chickens, turkeys and ducks has to be stronger than the predators drive to survive. You need to understand that the raccoon stalking your chickens at night does not see a difference between them and the white ibis that he had for lunch the other day. A bird is a bird is a bird as far as they care concerned and yours are just sitting there for the taking. An easily accessed meal is a hard thing to argue against and dealing with an offensive odor or an annoying beep is well worth the aggravation for a belly full of fresh meat. “Deterrents” of any kind are a giant waste of money.
“But, why would they sell them if they don’t actually work? Also, I have used them and it seems to do great!”
Just because predators aren’t coming around in frequent intervals doesn’t mean that the deterrents themselves are working. The author of this article keeps chickens and turkeys. Trail cameras are kept all around the property, especially near the turkeys and chickens. Only about every 6 months do predators seem to move through and usually only for a night or so. There are no deterrents being used on the property, thus lack of predator movement onto the property cannot be attributed to deterrents. It’s simply a matter of movement pattern, population density and habitat availability within close range. The more of those checkmarks that you can put on the board, the more likely you will be contending with predators.
As far as why they sell them…because you are willing to spend the money. Everyone always looks for a quick and cheap fix. You get what you pay for.
“Well, I could always just shoot the predators, right?”
Well, sure. That is an option, of course. The issue is, however, is that it’s not a preventative. In most cases, people lose a couple chickens to the predator before finally getting an opportunity to shoot the animal. While it could be said that it prevented losing any more animals to that predator…it doesn’t stop the NEXT predator that you’ll discover only after losing another animal or two. Shooting a predator species/animal is revenge. It’s not a solution.
“Okay, so what WILL keep my birds safe? I spent a lot of money on them and don’t want to lose them!” When we keep chickens, turkeys, ducks or any other livestock, we build a bond with those animals. We interact daily with them and enjoy their company. We also realize how much money we have invested in them and any losses tend to hurt emotionally and sometimes even financially depending on the loss and frequency of the loss. How effective you will be at keeping predators away largely hinges upon your preference for housing, the number of head you have in your flock, and your facilities for maintaining them. Those with large flocks tend to prefer free ranging. This is the most difficult method of raising birds and being able to maintain solid protection. The birds are typically out in the open and predators can arise at any time. It is unlikely that you will be able to always be nearby to “shoo” it away. Raccoons, foxes, coyotes, bobcats and hawks tend to be the predominant predators of chickens within Central Florida. While opossums can be under some circumstances, their activity is pretty limited. They are strictly nocturnal creatures unless they are disturbed from their daytime dwelling. All of the other aforementioned predators can be and often are, active in the daytime and nighttime. Therefore, an exposed flock is vulnerable 24/7.
The most effective way to keep your flock protected is to have a secure coop/roost and a well-built run that is secured 360 degrees. There are a number of things that you can use to construct your coop and run. It is important to understand, however, that the materials are only as good as the craftsmanship. Therefore, ensuring that your job is not rushed and is truly built to last is going to make all the difference.
“What materials should I avoid?”
Chicken wire – While we know that it is called chicken wire for a reason, the reality is, it’s not very reliable, doesn’t hold form and is easily to manipulate by predators. While it has its application and usefulness in some cases, we do not advise using this around the lower perimeter. It’s not rigid or durable enough to withstand pulling and prying by most sizeable predators.
Untreated wood – Untreated wood used on the exterior will not last long at all. It will deteriorate from water damage and termites before long and once it begins to break down, your structural security of the coop and run now begin to suffer.
OSB or Melamine – OSB and Melamine have the same issue in common…they do not hold up well against the elements. OSB is commonly used in constructing modern homes and while it can be exposed to rain for a brief period of time, as it absorbs water it deteriorates quickly. Melamine and other particle boards really can’t get wet at all. Even if you think that you have it well sealed, even a small crack that gives way to a leak will result in the deterioration of that wood in no time flat. While OSB can technically be used on the coop, it’s important to understand that the wood MUST be sealed. There can be NO LEAKS. If water is able to penetrate the exterior through any means at all (this includes screws and nail holes) the center of the wood begins to absorb water. The more water absorbed, the more it spreads. The more spread, results in expansion of the wood and thus begins its breakdown.
“Well, you’ve told us what we shouldn’t use, now what SHOULD we use?”
Treated plywood, 2x4s, and 4x4s – These are solid pieces of wood that are pressure treated to be able to withstand Central Florida’s often wet conditions and humidity. Upkeep will be necessary to keep it sealed and long-lasting, but they will hold up much longer than any non-treated wood.
Concrete – Ensure that all posts are well cemented. The more cement, the better. For holes and gaps, a surface bonding cement can be purchased that is meant to be mixed more like a putty. You can use it to fill in various holes and is especially good for rodent proofing.
9 gauge chain link, hog panel, or equivalent – Keep in mind that the thinner fencing, the easier broken it is and the easier it will be to manipulate with claws and teeth. Also, if you’re not familiar with these materials or how gauge measurements work, the smaller the gauge number, the thicker the material. For example, 11.5 gauge chain link is actually thinner than 9 gauge, despite the larger number. So if you’re ordering online, do not let the numbers fool you.
¼” Hardware clothe – Hardware clothe, despite being thin in nature, is an exceptionally reliable material. However, where most people go wrong with it is in the installation. Therefore, it is common to blame the material rather than the builder. The trick with hardware clothe is to keep it TIGHT and with no lips that the animal may be able to use to pry on. The more rigid and tight you keep it, the more secure it is. If the clothe is installed with too much flexibility or play in it, it will be torn up and breached.
Outside of the materials, craftsmanship is the most important component and there is no substitute. If you go too cheap and use the wrong materials, or shortcut on the design, then its only a matter of time until something finds a way in.
“What other advice do you have?”
Animals will approach your flock through a number of ways. While nighttime activity tends to be the most frequent due to limited human activity and they have the cover of darkness to their advantage, they can really approach at any time. During the night, they often have more time to work with and can spend time trying to exploit any vulnerabilities in the perimeter, and this includes digging UNDER the fencing. As such, its important to trench the full perimeter unless your coop and run are 100% on concrete slab.
In Central Florida, we are essentially on sand. With exception of some roots occasionally, it is not difficult to dig through. If you can dig through it easily, so can they. As such, digging essentially a moat around the full perimeter that measures a minimum of 18” deep and 18” wide and dropping hardware clothe in the ground, secured to the bottom edge/lip of the run and cupped at the bottom aimed outwards is essential. This will prevent predators from being able to dig under to get to your flock. As an added security measure, you can take old bricks, sturdy logs, broken cement blocks, etc. and drop them into the trench all the way around. It helps add counter-weight to the hardware clothe and prevents them from being able to get lucky and pull it up.
Keeping flocks of fowl, will automatically bring with it some risk. Your job is to minimize it. You cannot blame a predator for taking advantage of an easy meal. These are not “crooks” in the traditional sense that understand property boundaries, rules of law and consequence. They are simply hungry animals and have a will to survive like any other living being. However, that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our poultry to them. It simply means that we co-exist more responsibly by properly securing our animals to protect them from a wandering hungry animal.
If you are in Central Florida and are struggling with predators gaining access to your flock of chickens, turkeys or ducks, reach out to us at 813.699.9079 and let us see what we can do to help!